When Simon Crean announced his blueprint for the future of the Australian art industry last week, many were pleasantly surprised at just how visionary the policy turned out to be.
Creative Australia is a broad-ranging and cutting-edge (if not well overdue) reading of what it means to be creative in the modern world. The Minister for the Arts declared to parliament that ‘Culture defines us’ and to the delight of many in the art community he assigned a value to the creative fields equal to that of an essential service.
With a strong focus on the future of digital communications and gaming and a rethink of the strategy for luring overseas film investment, Creative Australia promises to push and promote the diversity of Australia’s creative talent on a global scale but perhaps the most anticipated and welcomed announcement is the structural reforms to the long ailing ‘Ministry for Culture’ – the Australia Council. The Government will immediately begin to strip away the red tape and funding silos committing to an investment of 75.3 million dollars over four years. The Australia Council will become a more responsive funding body with a peer driven, cross-platform funding mandate but amongst this rhetoric, a reference to “distinctive Australian creative arts practice” is of concern – what does distinctive Australian mean and who gets to decide?
Of course there are some disappointments; some organisations consider themselves losers in this funding fray and none more than Brisbane’s La Boite Theatre Company. Artistic Director David Berthold feels that they are continually overlooked in the funding stakes. Six companies across New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia (the Malthouse and Belvoir among them) will share in an extra 9.3 million dollars of funding – a peerage in which Berthold believes La Boite should have been included.
In a laughable aside to La Boite’s angst, Queensland’s new Arts Minister Ian Walker (Walker has quietly replaced the unsympathetic Ros Bates after her recent resignation) complained that Queensland had been left out, stating that “if we are going to fulfil our policy of getting art to all Queenslanders, we need in fact a bit more money” – a strange statement coming from a government whose first activity when elected was to pull funding from the arts and whose own Arts Minister (Ros Bates) called the investment in a certain sculpture commissioned for the GOMA / APT anniversary an ‘appalling waste of money’. Queensland artists are currently choking on Campbell’s new flavour of austerity soup and are understandably feeling isolated and nervous but Berthold was careful to champion the long-desired overhaul of the Australia Council pointing out that the council’s outdated funding structures were at the core of much industry frustration.
Crean’s Creative Australia highlights five main points of interest on the path to Australian cultural growth: indigenous heritage, the right to cultural expression, the special role of artists, a strong cultural sector and dynamic creative industries and the key commitments that have resulted are a universal arts education for school students, preserving the unique indigenous languages and an “artists-centric” approach to funding.
It has been almost twenty years since the last cultural policy was released with much fanfare and Crean’s new policy, first promised before the 2007 federal election, is itself many years late. It is a concern that with a federal election looming and Australia looking down the barrel of a conservative government change that Creative Australia will not be creative enough to survive what lies ahead. Mr Crean has called on the coalition to support his policy but opposition spokesman Senator George Brandis has set expectations rather low by responding that he didn’t think the funding was as generous as it would seem to be.
Is it a case of better late than never or will it turn out to be too little too late?